It's NOT About the Tank Top.
Let me begin by saying - this post is not meant to try and shape anyone's opinion or make you regret paying $82 for a pair of yoga pants. The purpose is to share observations about today's public definition of yoga and it's current impact on those who have practiced for what seems like forever, a few years, are just beginning, or those who have never practiced at all.
A year ago, I worked for lululemon for 41.5 days (to be exact). Before getting the job, I was emotionally recovering from having to say goodbye my work + yoga communities in Vermont while adjusting to "big city" living in the 'burbs of Detroit. I saw an opportunity for employment at a company that "lived + defined" yoga, so I jumped on it despite never having stepped foot into a lululemon store. Anything to get me surrounded by like-minded people with common goals, interests, and intentions. Anything to keep my yoga spirits soaring, helping me re-connect with myself after making such a big transition.
Well, to be frank, none of that happened [at all], although some of the people I met along the way were amazing. I learned a lot in those 41.5 days. The purpose of this post is not to sit around and bitch about lululemon - because I understand that yoga is part of their shtick, but it's hard to stay "true" to the concept of yoga while standing behind roughly 1 billion dollar signs (I digress). I'm grateful for my experience there because it taught me a few things about what I value and stand for.
I started recognizing a problem right away. After coming from peace+love+yoga+happiness in Burlington, I felt I had a solid idea of what yoga is and what it should be, from all different viewpoints and perspectives in yoga history. All of a sudden, it was the clothes and the image that were "yoga"...but, not everyone can fit into these clothes, and not everyone (okay, so most people I know) can't afford them.
That did not sit well with me, and it kept not sitting well until the day I left. According to society and all of the advertisements in modern yoga magazines, there is a certain "look" that one should maintain in order to be a "yogi". WHAT? That isn't what I learned, but it's what society is saying. Trying to identify the definition of what yoga is in this day in age is not simple. So, like everything else - I knew I needed to figure out how to transform the mixed messages and opinions that come from all different directions.
The real definition of yoga, a word derived from Sanskrit, means: "to yoke" or "union". The idea of connecting with something within and/or beyond yourself. In my teacher training, we were challenged by the amazing Kathy McNames to make a list of "100 Things That Are Yoga". This list was an opportunity to assess and examine everything around us all the time, whether in our physical space or in our mind's space. On my list was the beauty of Lake Superior, the waterfall I was blessed to have in my backyard, hugs from friends and loved ones. Also on this list were things that challenged me (the effort that balanced out my ease). The ache that came along with being 18 hours from home, the challenging interactions I had with clients at work. From a certain perspective, everything I did was yoga.
So, what changed for me after getting a job at one of the largest yoga clothing companies in the world? Everything. I realized that it isn't about the tank top you're wearing, how nice your backside looks in your pants, or if you can flip upside down into a fancy inversion. This image is scaring some people away from even trying it and discouraging countless others who devote a lot of time on their mat but are frustrated that they still can't get their heels to touch the ground in Downward Dog.
All I want to do is try to begin the conversation that in order to do yoga, you don't have to be wearing $250 worth of gear and you definitely do not need to be balancing on your arms or going upside down. You only have to be willing to slow down, listen to your breath, and do what feels good to you. Someone once told me: "If you can breathe, you can do yoga". There is no shame in putting in the effort, because the results are almost always worth it.
All of this being said: wear what makes you comfortable and don't let society's image of yoga influence how you view your abilities. It's no one's practice except yours, no matter if you're shaking and sweating during a tough practice at your local studio or if you're stretching in your living room on a quiet Sunday morning before everyone else wakes up.
I encourage you to forget what you think you know about what yoga means and create your own definition. Make a list of some things that are yoga in your life. Regardless of if the physical (asana) practice is for you or not, everyone can benefit from slowing down and looking inward once and awhile. Most importantly, remember that it's called your yoga practice for a reason - perfection is never, ever the goal.